Welcome to our newest series that we are calling Rockers. These are people around the Little Rock area doing amazing things in the community. Have someone you would like to nominate for a future Rockers? Shoot us a message.
This week we want you to meet Traci Berry. Tree climber extraordinaire and LGBT advocate.
Berry got her start in education for 14 years coaching and teaching PE across all grade levels throughout the state.
“I love working with kids,” Berry says. “Leaving education was hard, it really is the students that I miss. I love hearing from them every once in awhile. Being a positive impact on as many people as I can is the most rewarding thing in the world to me.”
In 2010 Berry left education to help start Buffalo River Canopy Tour in Ponca that is now a part of the Buffalo Outdoor Center. She helped build the tour which opened in July 2010, and became the first zipline canopy tour in Arkansas.
“It really helps people overcome their fears,” Berry tells us. “It is rewarding to watch someone face something so terrifying to them head on and discover that they can accomplish it.”
That is not to say that fears are always conquered.
“Once we leave the first zip platform you are stuck up there,” Berry explains. “To get down at that point you have to lower them from the tree. Some freeze up, we do not have it happen often, but occasionally it will. I’ve had to hold a grown man’s hand while we lowered him from the platform.”
Overcoming fears, Berry says, is about guiding them and supporting them. Showing them that even though it is scary things will be ok. “We don’t push people, we want them to overcome their fear on their own,” she says.
While she is still guiding zip line tours most of the time, Berry is working to help people overcome an even larger fear by focusing on advocacy within the LGBT community.
“I was in education for 14 years, teaching all grade levels in PE and coaching. That background along with the zip like has helped me when dealing with people through the advocacy,” Berry tells us. “People are just afraid of what is different. You don’t want to be reactive, because that just fuels their fire. You need to be able to have a conversation.”
“If you would have told me two years ago this is where I would be, I would have said no way. I am going to be living up in Ponka zipping, hiking, floating the buffalo, and living off the land,” Berry says. “But it was through the Big Gay Radio show that I started seeing what everyone else in the community was doing.”
The show started giving a voice to the LGBT community. “There was something about hearing a couple of gay people goofing off on the radio that gave people courage,” Berry says.
Shortly into her time on Big Gay Radio things began to heat up. Gay marriage in Arkansas became a large issue being passed, overturned, then eventually made legal again by the federal government. Then the Arkansas Legislature attempted to pass discrimination acts like HB 1228 (which failed), and SB 202, which eventually passed, becoming Act 137.
“After being a part of all this, I realized that I can not just sit back and not be active and not try to do what I can to help make a difference. I have to do what I can too,” Berry says.
Berry says that the momentum cannot stop now though. It is more important than ever for the community to be involved.
“What we can’t do is set back and relax after gaining a bit of momentum. It would be the worst thing for all of us. It is the worst time to relax, now is the time to keep moving,” Berry says. “I still think there will be some backlash from everything. I just hope that people do not become lackadaisical.”
Now Berry is getting serious about what she feels are even more important issues.
“We have bigger issues that need to be dealt with than worrying about a piece of paper that says we can love each other,” Berry explains. “It is about teenagers out there that are being kicked out of their homes because they are gay. It is about the bullying and hatred that has led a lot of people to feel like there is just now way out. It is about kids and suicide rates.”
Berry says that the most important thing is to let people know that they are not alone, to encourage them to tell their stories.
“They are starting to gain the courage to let their voice be heard and now we have things like Lucie’s Place which provides a home to LGBT youth who have been kicked out for being gay,” Berry says. “Now we have kids coming from small cities around Little Rock meeting other kids like them. They are finding out that is ok to be themselves.”
Ultimately it is about having a rational conversation to Berry, which comes back to facing fears. You cannot push people, they have to come to realize it on their own.
“I think it is important to hear people’s stories. It is a hard thing to do, and takes a lot of courage to share your story too,” Berry says. “The more that happens the more other people start to realize the person sharing is like my neighbor, or a person in my Sunday school. That person is my niece or my son or daughter. Then they start to realize that we all just people.”
By removing the alien concepts that drive people to fear, Berry believes that people can see others as just people.
“I get up in the morning and I drink coffee. I get myself ready, feed my animals, and I drive down the road to get gas. It is not like it is this whole different type of life that I am living,” Berry explains. “We are all just people trying to make it day by day. The more people can realize that it is not alien, then eventually we will be better off. They don’t have to accept, but just understand that we can all live in this space together and it will be just fine. We are not trying to change you, and why would anyone expect us to change?”